Eagles seeking place in historyAurora Christian's Grayson and Noah Roberts celebrate an Eagle victory over Unity on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 21, 2011 5:26PM
There is a saying that if you keep knocking on the door, someone is going to answer.
Aurora Christian hopes that door opens Friday night in Champaign, as Aurora sends its third team to a state championship game in four years after having no representation in the first 35 years of the current championship format.
It’s also the third different class an Aurora team will participate in. The Eagles lost the 2008 Class 4A game to Bloomington Central Catholic while Marmion Academy lost in the 6A title game last year to Rockford Boylan Catholic. A win would mean history, and Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe is keenly aware of this, telling his coaches after a 50-26 victory over Tolono Unity Saturday night “let’s get one for Aurora.”
The area in general hasn’t seen a state title since Plano won the second of back-to-back championships in 2007. Kaneland brought home titles in 1997 and 1998, while Oswego won championships in 1992 and 2003. Geneva lost title games in 1975 and 2008, while Batavia lost in 2006.
What’s unique about this Aurora Christian team is that, dating back to the summer, the players made it known they expected to get to this point. The Eagles didn’t shy away from talking about reaching a state final and played all year with that expectation. Even as injuries piled up throughout the season, that confidence never wavered.
“It’s amazing,” Eagles tackle Josh Kok said with a smile nearly as wide as his face. “There’s no feeling like this. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Added Anthony Maddie, amidst the celebratory hugs and shoulder bumps: “This moment is so sweet. These are the moments you wish you could live in forever.”
More on ‘The Cutback’
Unfortunately, we don’t always have the space to fully breakdown a game’s key moment. On Sunday, I wrote about the adjustment the Eagles made at halftime about using quick hitting run plays with a one cut back across the grain.
It sounds simple, sure.
We’ve seen the play before, at all levels. But what made it special — and so effective — against the Rockets is that the Eagles don’t run that play, or at least not that often. The Rockets coaching staff had no expectation of seeing it and could not adjust to it. Head coach Scott Hamilton’s look of utter disbelief postgame described it better than words ever could.
Sitting next to the Rockets defensive coaches all night, they could not get their players into the right positions to combat it, let alone rein in their inherent aggressiveness. Those coaches’ constant fist pounding, and finally — laying a head on a table in resignation — said it all.
We put a spotlight on all-state linebacker Kyle Negangard and cohorts Austin Fender and Mitch Negangard during the week, and rightfully so. That group was as talented as any I’ve seen all season, including Waubonsie Valley’s. Add in ends Lonnie Fourman (6-1, 175) and Jared Abrahamson (6-1, 195) and rotating nose tackles Matthew Vasquez (5-6, 190) and Logan Sehie (6-7, 340), and the Rockets were frankly blowing up the Eagles offensive line in the first half. Quarterback Anthony Maddie could not reach the edge or get to the second level on designed runs — sweeps or draws. The closing speed of those linebackers was a sight to see.
So something had to be done, and despite running for over 2,000 yards as a team — going to a power formation is not something this specific Eagles group does that often. Hence, having to draw up an entirely new blocking scheme for the linemen and the backside receivers while impressing the speed and one cut on Ryan Suttle and Brandon Mayes was indeed impressive.
All in the span of eight minutes — that’s how long Beebe and the offensive coaches were in the locker room following their huddle on the field.
“We drew up some new plays at halftime on the board and said, ‘Boys, we’ve got to attack in the middle and they’ve got to be quick-hitters. We can’t afford to dance, we can’t get outside, this team is too fast,’” Beebe said of the adjustment. “So what we’ve got to do is take it right at them and hit it fast with Suttle and B-Mayes.
“I tell ya — it really, really worked. These kids got to the second level, fast.”
The Cutback. It sounds simple. We see it a ton. But in the moment, it was a heck of a call and even better execution.
Here are some highlights that turned the tide in Aurora Christian’s favor Saturday night that fell under the radar after a 29-point Eagles’ fourth quarter:
With 15 seconds left in the first half and leading 14-7, Unity had the ball at the Aurora Christian 15-yard line. Rockets QB Taylor Black lofted a pass to Tyler Bialeschki, who was open in the end zone. The ball had just enough air on it to allow Eagles safety Brandon Mayes to close, and Mayes lit up the 6-1, 185-pound tight end and dislodged the ball. Unity ran four more plays from inside the 15, but did not score.
With 7:24 to go in the game and Unity up 26-21, the Eagles brought in receiver Chad Beebe and lined him up in slot formation. It was the junior’s first appearance since the first half, when he reinjured his shoulder. Beebe was sent in motion, and the flood pattern brought the Rockets’ linebackers to his side. Maddie booted out to that side as well, leaving Grayson Roberts alone in the middle of the end zone. He made a leaping catch on a high throw for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
Following that touchdown, the Eagles had to kick the ball into the wind. Julian Sosa’s boot expectedly hung up, but no Unity up-man attempted to field it. The ball fell untouched, and Sosa and Grayson Roberts pounced on it at the Rockets’ 39. Eight plays later, Mayes found the end zone to push the lead to 36-26.
Last word on Kaneland
The silence coming out of Maple Park Saturday night was deafening. Jesse Balluff kept the Knights in the game early with an exhilarating 81-yard touchdown run. Defensive backs Sean Carter, Quinn Buschbacher and Jake Razo (who picked off his 10th pass of the year) held Nebraska-bound Montini Catholic receiver Jordan Westerkamp without a catch for three quarters. Sophomore quarterback Drew David battled the wind like a senior, nearly leading the Knights to a championship appearance. Yet none of the Knights players were allowed to speak to the media about the game, or their season. It was a heck of a run for the Knights and a classic contest. Unfortunately we’ll never know how any of the participants felt about it. Too bad.